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Fort Smith urges wearing of masks

Board passes resolution on coverings as way to protect ‘most vulnerable’ by Thomas Saccente | July 9, 2020 at 3:11 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- Residents in the state's second-largest city have been advised to wear masks or face coverings because of the covid-19 pandemic.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday encouraging the practice.

City Administrator Carl Geffken wrote in a memo to the board that he proposed the resolution "to reduce the transmission of the virus that causes covid-19, to keep our residents safe, and to permit the city, county, and state to continue the process of relaxing restrictions." He said the resolution was prepared by the Arkansas Municipal League.

Through Tuesday, Sebastian County has had 634 total positive cases of covid-19, with seven deaths, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

Several cities around the state have adopted ordinances or resolutions regarding face coverings.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Little Rock and Fayetteville have passed ordinances requiring face coverings in public spaces.

Maumelle's City Council adopted a resolution Monday night similar to Fort Smith's, encouraging the use of masks in public but not requiring it.

The votes this week in Maumelle, Hot Springs and Fort Smith come after Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Executive Order 20-41 on Friday, which states that cities, upon consultation with his office and the Arkansas Department of Health, may issue local ordinances on face coverings to help curb the spread of covid-19.

Arkansas' secretary of health issued guidance through the Department of Health regarding the use of face coverings.

It recommends that people wear face coverings indoors when they are exposed to non-household members and where distancing of six feet or more cannot be assured. It also recommends such coverings in all outdoor settings where there is exposure to non-household members unless ample space of six feet or more exists to practice physical distancing.

Fort Smith's resolution states that the city is not attempting to mandate the use of face masks/coverings, nor penalize those who choose not to wear them.

Rather, the city is strongly encouraging everyone who can safely wear such coverings to do so to help limit the spread of virus, "in particular to protect the most vulnerable members of our state, as well as to ensure that the hard won progress made by the citizens of Arkansas in reopening our shared economy is preserved."

In response to questions asked by Fort Smith Ward 4 Director George Catsavis, Geffken explained that the resolution, which was crafted for Eureka Springs, came out about a week and a half ago, before the model ordinance announced by the governor.

The Board of Directors will have a special meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday to discuss the model ordinance.

Also in light of the covid-19 pandemic, the Board of Directors approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute a lease agreement with NextGen Development Partners LLC for the 12-month lease of a temporary drive-thru utility payment facility at 524 Garrison Ave. The date of the lease is Aug. 1.

This temporary facility, which will give residents a new way to pay for water and wastewater services and allow for social distancing between the public and the city staff, was previously discussed during the board's study session June 30.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman wrote in a memo that a 12-month lease would be proposed to provide time for the covid-19 crisis to pass and evaluate the public's reception to the drive-thru payment option.

The city could choose to continue using the site if the crisis still exists or public use is high at the end of the lease.

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